Sooner Summit shows value of recruits making pitch to others during pandemic: 'It's still super important'
Jordan Mukes doesn’t consider himself a social person.
That’s why Choctaw High School’s star safety didn’t plan to stay in Norman very long last weekend. But as he sat at The Garage — a local burger restaurant chain — he was sucked into the camaraderie.
Nearly 20 recruits — some committed to OU and some not — were together. No Sooners coaches were involved.
The recruits had been to Topgolf. They had been to The Collective, a local food hall in Oklahoma City. they had toured campus and stepped onto the playing field at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
This was the first Sooner Summit, an unconventional recruiting weekend organized by recruits for recruits.
And it had Mukes totally hooked.
“It’s really crazy thinking about it,” said Mukes, a three-star safety who committed to OU in March. “I’ve never really heard anything like that where the recruits make a day to come visit. A lot of them came from far, like Florida. It was crazy.”
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, football recruiting creativity is necessary.
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The NCAA implemented a COVID-19 recruiting dead period in March that has been extended through at least September. Recruits cannot take sanctioned visits to campuses. Coaches cannot visit them. There can be no in-person contact.
Virtual recruiting visits have become the norm, but they often focus on facilities.
That’s left recruits to make their pitch to each other.
Last weekend, five-star quarterback and OU commit Caleb Williams did just that, organizing the Sooner Summit with his father.
“I don’t think another school has a player like Caleb Williams that can set that up pretty much all by himself, to get 17 kids on campus on their own time with no coaches involved,” OU three-star linebacker commit Danny Stutsman said.
Across the country, recruits have sanctioned their own trips to campuses.
That recently drew the ire of LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who said “it’s pushing the line a little bit.” But if rules are being followed, the majority of coaches have no issue with the process.
They’d love to recruit in person, but that’s simply not possible. Recruiting by current recruits has instead been magnified.
“Is it more important this year? Um, probably yet to be seen,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said last week. “I mean, it's still super important, but I think it's been super important the last few years, too. But you can make that argument because we're obviously limited on what we can do.”
At Oklahoma State, the Cowboys’ recruits have not organized a Pokes Summit or something similar.
They are in constant contact, whether through group chats or social media. And that’s valuable in recruiting.
“I think it’s really important because they obviously can’t get up here, they don’t know what it’s like, so they need help from other people,” OSU defensive end Trace Ford said. “Just bounce ideas off each other.”
Ford said he’s recruited his alma mater — Edmond Santa Fe — pretty hard. The Cowboys have a commitment from linebacker Collin Oliver. Junior receiver Talyn Shettron is a big target, too.
But it remains to be seen when players can step foot on campus in an official capacity.
At OU, that’s already had an impact.
Stutsman took a visit to OSU before the pandemic. If he had taken his scheduled April visit to OU, he said he would have taken summer classes to graduate early and report to the Sooners in the spring.
“On that Sunday, I did not want to leave,” Stutsman said about the Sooner Summit. “I was so ready to be down there to play.”
Stutsman and Mukes both praised Williams’ leadership for organizing the weekend. The Williams family traveled to Norman for some house hunting, but decided to make the weekend even more valuable.
OU commits arrived alongside recruits still deciding, both in the 2021 and 2022 classes.
And they likely changed the recruitment process in a pandemic.
“I’m pretty sure no player wants to go to a school where a whole bunch of dudes worry about themselves and not feel that welcome,” Mukes said. “We can’t go to visits how we want to and do everything how we want to do it, so I think it’s good the players have taken the time out to help the school out and help the coaches.”